Amid that ongoing, fruitless search for definitive numbers, predictable results and guaranteed outcomes, it was announced Thursday that parents and schools will determine a future direction for extra-curricular activities and sports.
Columbus – Keep your mask on, your hands clean and your hopes up, because Governor Mike DeWine all but promised Thursday that there will be high school football and other sports in Ohio this fall.
He qualified it, of course, with all the ominous warnings that things could change, you can’t let your guard down and you better take this seriouszzzzzzz etc, etc. that have become a routine part of DeWine’s regular afternoon news conferences.
But for high school athletes in what the state has deemed contact sports — football, soccer, field hockey — DeWine’s words were a welcome beacon in what’s been a fog of uncertainty about their competitive futures.
“We want the athletes to compete. We want the athletes to have their season. But we want to do it as safely as possible. This will be a little disruptive for some people, but what we want to make sure is the parents, people who mean a lot to that particular child, have an opportunity to see them.”
That’s essentially confirmation of what will be a formal green-light announcement on Tuesday after DeWine and Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted confer with coaches via conference call to stress the importance of maintaining safety protocols with their players.
“The message today from Governor DeWine keeps us all who are choosing to play optimistic about playing and letting each school and community make decisions for ourselves,” said Chip Otten, who is entering his 11th season as Coldwater’s head football coach. “Because athletics aren’t mandatory, anyone from the NFL, NCAA to high school, can opt out if they’re uncomfortable with the situation.”
Some assumed DeWine was preparing Ohio prep athletes for a disappointment when he brought Dr. Curt Daniels, an Ohio State cardiologist, into his press conference to discuss myocarditis, a heart ailment recent linked to COVID-19.
Various news accounts of the Big Ten’s postponement of fall sports have cited myocarditis and its possible long-term effects as justification for the conference’s decision.
Daniels, a specialist in congenital heart disease and sports cardiology, confirmed that OSU has had athletes suffer myocarditis after contracting COVID-19.
“This is not new to the coronavirus,” Daniels said. “We’ve known about myocarditis and viruses causing myocarditis for many years and decades.”
Daniels said instances of myocarditis related to COVID-19 appear higher than from other viruses, with most studies looking at hospitalized coronavirus patients, where the ailment can range from very mild to very serious in an estimated 20 percent of cases.
Daniels said tests of the athletes at OSU have found myocarditis in 10-to-13 percent of cases.
“We do know that this does happen,” Daniels said. “It happens in the community, with athletes. We’re still not sure of the overall impact and what that means. We continue to get more data, but it is certainly something that we’re finding.”
So, amid that ongoing, fruitless search for definitive numbers, predictable results and guaranteed outcomes, parents and schools will determine a future direction for extra-curricular activities and sports.
“Living life has some inherent risk,” Otten said. “You make a calculated decision on what you think is best, based on the possible consequences, both positive and negative.
“I think most people in Coldwater think the positives outweigh the negatives to go back to school and play sports. If issues come up later, we can always adapt and adjust to the situation.”
What kind of adjustments will come into sharper focus next week, but DeWine certainly wouldn’t have all-but-promised athletes a fall season if still weighing the possibility of cancellation.
“We’ve been working with the Ohio (High School) Athletic Association to get it right,” he said. “Guidelines to make it as safe as possible. I have a great deal of confidence in the coaches who are out there….They really have the opportunity not just in practice and in games, to impress upon their athletes and the young men and women, the importance of keeping a distance and being safe. But it’s also important what young people do when they’re not playing, when they are home, when they’re out and about.
“Having the coaches focus on that. We always look to our coaches for leadership and this is an era where leadership in fighting the coronavirus is probably their most important job.”
Despite the governor’s promising announcement, some coaches still won’t get the chance to counsel their athletes this fall.
Columbus City Schools cancelled fall sports and in-person extra-curricular activities hours before DeWine spoke on Thursday.
DeWine said Mercer County remains at a red threat level with 11 other counties in Ohio. Others at Alert Level 3 include Franklin, Licking, Fairfield, Muskingum, Brown, Clermont, Montgomery, Marion, Lucas, Erie and Cuyahoga County.
“What goes on in the school, and what goes on with the athletes is directly related to what goes on in the community,” DeWine said. “If you want your son, if you want your daughter to play sports, if you want them to have any other extra-curricular activities…the ability of that school to stay open and the ability of that school to play sports is directly related to what’s going on in that community. It just is. So, we all need to be in this together. We want our kids to be able to have that experience, but it won’t last unless we slow this coronavirus down.
It’s not just the red counties. The red counties are the ones on high, high alert in regard to that. But it’s every county. What goes on in that community really impacts it. We can control that. We control it by what we do.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Let the games begin.
Bruce Hooley is a former sports editor of the Troy Daily News. He hosts the, “We Tackle Life,” sports/faith podcast with Fox NFL analyst and College Football Hall-of-Famer Chris Spielman. The podcast is available Monday, Wednesday and Friday on iTunes and other platforms.